Remembering the wartime “X-men” and their attack on the Tirpitz

Nope. It wasn’t John Mills on a Saturday afternoon on BBC2. It was a group of very real, very brave men.

Submariners pay tribute to wartime X-men 70 years after daring Tirpitz raid

Today’s submariners paid their respects to some of their bravest wartime forebears in a remote part of Scotland. Veterans of midget submarines were guests of honour at a service next to Loch Cairnbawn, from where 70 years ago X-craft sailed to cripple Hitler’s flagship, the Tirpitz.

Submariners pay tribute to wartime X-men 70 years after daring Tirpitz raid.

On a cold, wet and windy day in one of the remotest spots in the British Isles, veterans joined current submariners, family members, dignitaries and historians to pay tribute to one of the greatest deeds in the annals of the Silent Service.Seven decades ago this September a handful of midget submarines set out to cripple the pride of Hitler’s Navy, the Tirpitz – the largest battleship in the Western World.

In a raid which was later immortalised on film, half a dozen four-man submarines – known as X-craft – were dispatched to lay explosive charges under the leviathan.

Only three reached the beast in its lair in Altafjord, east of Tromsø, but they succeeded; Tirpitz was knocked out of action for six months.

Submariners pay tribute to wartime X-men 70 years after daring Tirpitz raid.

In HMS X6 on that raid – Operation Source – was Lt John Lorimer. Now in his 90s, and a retired commander he was one of two X-craft veterans who were guests of honour at the 70th anniversary service honouring the men of the Twelfth Submarine Squadron.

He was joined by his former colleague Sub Lt Adam Bergius who took part in missions against the Japanese in the Far East.

Both men were decorated for their deeds in these 30-tonne craft – the DSO for Mr Lorimer, the DSC for Mr Bergius.

And both men trained in the sheltered waters of c, about two dozen miles north of Ullapool on the north-west coast of Scotland.

And it is overlooking those same waters that a memorial to all who served in those midget submarines and chariots (human torpedoes) between 1942 and 1945 stands.

Despite the remoteness of the monument, nearly 150 people made the pilgrimage to honour the X-craft pioneers – 39 of whom made the ultimate sacrifice in missions against the Axis powers.

As the wind gusted and the rain lashed, Jonathan Brett Young, Deputy Lieutenant of Sutherland and a former naval officer, thanked those gathered for making the effort, before author Paul Watkins read extracts from his biography of Godfrey Place, awarded the VC for his part in the Tirpitz raid with Mr Place’s children Melanie and Charles listening.

Submariners pay tribute to wartime X-men 70 years after daring Tirpitz raid.

The Rev Peter Mosley performed the service of remembrance and after the strains of the Naval Hymn faded over the loch, the haunting notes of the Last Post were sounded by Royal Marines Bugler James Trowbridge.

Maj Gen Patrick Marriott, Deputy Lieutenant of Sutherland, closed proceedings. Despite his firm Army background, the general admitting having a soft spot for the Senior Service, as both his parents had served in the RN; indeed, his father commanded two wartime submarines – including HMS Graph, formerly U570, which was captured and put into service under the White Ensign.

Today’s RN was represented at the service by Command Warrant Officer Submarines WO1 Stefano Mannucci, WO1 Bob Morrison and WO1 David Annan from the Faslane Flotilla, and HMS Sutherland’s Lt Cdr Chris Morgan.

“It was a great celebration of a fantastic achievement and a fitting tribute to those from the 39 men of the Twelfth Flotilla who made the ultimate sacrifice for their country in operations – and during the hazardous training,”

said WO Morrison.

“If you ever travel north on the A894 to Kylesku you will find a very poignant memorial to an extremely brave deed and as ever a very warm Highland welcome.”

Submariners pay tribute to wartime X-men 70 years after daring Tirpitz raid.

As for Operation Source, six X-craft were towed by ‘mother’ submarines across the North Sea. X9 was lost on the way across and X8 was damaged and had to be scuttled, leaving only four small boats to carry out the mission.

X10 was due to attack the battle-cruiser Scharnhorst, but the ship had sailed on exercises so the mission was aborted.

For the remaining three craft attacking Tirpitz, they had to get past a screen of anti-submarine vessels, anti-torpedo nets and anti-submarine nets before finally laying their charges.

X5 was blown out of the water by the German battleship’s guns before she could lay her charges, but X6 and X7 did. Their crews were unable to escape, abandoned their boats and were taken prisoner.

The operation cost nine British lives, but the blast caused extensive damage both to Tirpitz’s hull – she shipped over 1,400 tonnes of water – and one of her 15in gun turrets was dislodged.

(l-r) Lt T L Martin, Lt K R Hudspeth RANVR, Lt B McFarlane RAN, Lt Godfrey Place and Lt D Cameron RNR.

Tirpitz was out of action until April 1944 – and then the Fleet Air Arm knocked her out for a further two months in a carrier-launched strike.

The battleship was finally sunk by the RAF in November 1944 using 12,000lb ‘earthquake’ bombs which caused Tirpitz to capsize.

HMAS Newcastle conducts counter-terrorist operations in Bab-el-Mandeb strait

HMAS Newcastle (FFG 06) is a Royal Australian Navy Adelaide-class frigate, laid down in 1989 and commissioned into the RAN in 1993. She will be replaced by one of the new Hobart-class destroyers (due to commission between 2016-19).

HMAS Newcastle completes counter-terrorism focused operation

One of HMAS Newcastle’s Ridged Hull Inflatable Boats (RHIBs) returning from boarding operations.

In July, HMAS Newcastle completed an intensive counter-terrorism focused operation in the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden with the multi-national Combined Task Force 150 (CTF 150).

During the focused operation, Newcastle executed 58 boarding actions, three replenishment activities with foreign ships and five deterrence transits of the (BAM).

The BAM, which translated from Arabic means the ‘Gate of Grief’, is a critical choke point that connects the Gulf of Aden to the Southern Red Sea, leading north to the Suez Canal. The narrow body of water is part of a global shipping network that connects the West and the East. It is frequently used by ships travelling from Europe to nations whose maritime boarders are on the Indian Ocean. CTF 150 estimates that between 55 and 65 merchant ships transit the BAM daily.

A boarding party from HMAS Newcastle conducts Approach and Assist Visits on a boat in the Middle East Area of Operations.

Principal Warfare Officer, Lieutenant Mike Forsythe described the BAM as a high risk area for terrorism related activities.

“It is high risk because of the width of the strait and the number of small boats that operate in it,” Lieutenant Forsythe said.

“The aims of the coalition and regional partners involved in the focused operation were to build a better understanding of the patterns of life in the area, to deter terrorist activities, and restrict the terrorist’s freedom of movement,” he said.

The boarding actions executed by Newcastle during the focused operation were Approach and Assist Visits (AAV), which are conducted regularly by coalition warships to build rapport with local mariners and seek information on what they may have seen in the area. The visits allow the coalition ships to collect intelligence on patterns of illegal activity.

Newcastle used her S-70-B2 Seahawk helicopter to survey the area of operations to gather intelligence on patterns of life and identify targets for her Boarding Party to visit.

During the focused operation, Newcastle also conducted three replenishment activities with coalition ships, from France and the United States, to take on fuel and stores ensuring that Newcastle could remain in the area and focused on her mission.

The Australian crew battled through 97 percent humidity for more than four hours to complete one of the Replenishment at Sea (RAS) evolutions with the United States Naval Service oiler USNS Patuxent, which included a Heavy Jackstay. Newcastle also conducted her first evening RAS with French Ship (FS) Somme, their third replenishment activity together since Newcastle arrived in the Middle East Area of Operation (MEAO).

The focused operation was a true multi-national affair with the Australian warship interacting with British, French, U.S. and Spanish units.

“The BAM is an important strategic strait to the international community. Without it, ships would have to transit all the way around Africa. We all have an interest in the security of this region,” Lieutenant Forsythe said.

On completion of the counter-terrorism focused operation, Newcastle was assigned to another CTF 150 operation – targeting the smuggling of weapons.

CTF 150 is one of three task forces operated by the Combined Maritime Forces (CMF), a 28-nation coalition based in Bahrain. The principle mission of CTF 150 is to deter, disrupt and defeat attempts by international terrorist organisations to use the maritime environment as a venue for attack or as a means to transport personnel, weapons and other materials.

Newcastle is in the Middle East Area of Operations (MEAO) assigned to Operation SLIPPER – the Australian Defence Force (ADF) contribution to the international campaign against terrorism, counter smuggling and counter piracy in the Gulf of Aden, and enhancing regional maritime security and engagement. Her deployment is the 55th rotation of an Australian warship to the MEAO since 1990.

HMAS Newcastle’s Boarding Team, boarding the Yemeni Dhow SONA after being invited on during an Approach and Assist Visit (AAV) to build rapport with local mariners in the Bab Al Mandeb strait.